Citizenship: Young People

– in the House of Lords at 11:21 am on 16th February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 11:21 am, 16th February 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether details of the rights and responsibilities of young people referred to in their Respect Action Plan are clearly set out in the citizenship curriculum taught to young people in schools.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, citizenship education develops pupils' understanding of their roles and responsibilities as citizens in a modern democracy. It encourages pupils to develop respect for themselves and for others. It teaches pupils about social and criminal justice and about the importance of active citizenship. Also important in nurturing respect is the teaching of personal, social and health education in schools, which emphasises the duties of parents and the value of family life.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, which puts a finger on one of the important issues—the difference between citizenship education, which is compulsory in schools as it is part of the national curriculum, and the PSHE curriculum, which is in effect voluntary at schools, except for the part that relates to sex education. Does the noble Lord accept that a baby is not born with social values, let alone the shared values of the society into which it is born? It may be true that those values are widely shared in our society—I suspect that they are—but it is clear from anti-social behaviour and other issues that not all children are growing up learning and appreciating the importance of those values. What do the Government plan to do about that?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, which is why we place such emphasis on both citizenship education and PSHE in our schools. As he knows, citizenship education became compulsory in schools three years ago—there was no mandatory requirement for it until then—and we have significantly strengthened support for PSHE in schools in recent years, including through schemes of work, a substantial programme of training PSHE teachers, and the department is just about to launch and fund a subject association for PSHE teachers. We recognise the importance of all those strands of work.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, when children are taught about their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, they develop an understanding of their responsibilities in relation to the rights of others? Is he aware of the many projects that prove that this very much improves their behaviour, both at school and in the home?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. The citizenship curriculum places strong emphasis on the teaching of legal and human rights, including international treaties and obligations.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

My Lords, the Respect Action Plan also indicates that the Government will legislate to reduce truancy, but we know from the National Audit Office figures that the Government have already spent £885 million on such initiatives since 1997. How will new legislation actually reduce truancy? Should we not be doing what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, suggested, which is to go to the root causes of bad discipline in our schools and continuing truancy? Why have all the government initiatives so far failed?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, we do not accept that they have failed. Attendance in schools is rising, and many of the programmes that are encompassed in the figure that the noble Baroness gave, including Excellence in Cities and a host of others, have been extremely successful in raising attainment in inner-city areas—they are not just focused on truancy. Where I agree with her is that, of course, we need to start as early as we can in inculcating a strong sense of values and commitment in pupils and in supporting parents. That is precisely what we are doing.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister explain in slightly more detail the relationship between parenting education in schools and the Government's Respect Action Plan? The Children's Commissioner for England has praised work that has brought mothers with young infants into primary schools, allowing pupils to observe the growth of the infant over several months. Will the Minister consider whether that work might be expanded to secondary schools, as the commissioner would wish?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I will certainly consider the point that the noble Earl makes. The Respect Action Plan sets out investment plans for £70 million over the next two years to help parents to improve their parenting skills. That includes encouraging all local authorities to provide parenting classes as part of their children and young people's plans, to which schools will have to have regard under the education Bill that we are bringing forward. It also includes intensive family support projects and pump-priming resources to improve parenting skills in areas of high deprivation. We are focused on the priorities that the noble Earl set out.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister believe that enough attention has been given to encouraging today's children to think about what they would wish for when they become parents? Does that not need much more emphasis in the citizenship curriculum and elsewhere, so that children concentrate on being adequate parents when they grow up?

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson in the Lords (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, should not the respect agenda be a two-way street? We are a robust democracy, despite the Government trying to be more and more authoritarian on certain key issues at the moment. Given that it is regularly shown that a large majority of young people and younger voters disapproved of the illegal invasion of Iraq and now want us to leave Iraq as quickly as possible, why do the Government not show some respect to young people and act accordingly?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I think that that was a rhetorical question rather than a substantive point, as we do not accept the premises in the noble Lord's question either on authoritarianism or on the other aspects that he mentioned.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

My Lords, is not the opportunity to have a job an important factor too in enabling the growth of better citizenship? Are the Government convinced that the New Deal is working effectively and helping much in that regard? To withdraw it would be a negative factor in improving respect.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend entirely. All our efforts are focused on making young people more employable and on giving them the opportunities to which he referred. The significant improvement in results that we are seeing in our schools is also helping to that end, thanks to the 50 per cent real-terms increase in education funding under this Government.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, what are the Government doing to increase the number of specialised trained teachers in citizenship? Why are the Government not funding the new citizenship certificate for teachers in post, which the DfES is piloting? I believe that the uptake has been very low, probably because of the lack of funding.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, we fund a large number of training places for citizenship teachers. We have been funding the training of 200 specialist teachers a year since citizenship education started three years ago. This year, because of increased demand, we are funding 240 places. We will have 1,000 specialist citizenship teachers in place by this summer. In addition, we will have 70 advanced skills teachers. I do not believe that that is a bad record over three years, but of course we have further to go.